Anger Management
review by Gregory Avery, 25 April 2003

In the comedy Anger Management, Adam Sandler, that oval-faced lamb with the abashed look of a high-schooler working the drive-through window at a McDonalds, plays Dave Buznik, a meek, schlubby little guy who is forced by court mandate to take an anger management course after he is accused, wrongfully, of committing an assault. How funny could that be? The counselor who's assigned to him is a genuine nut named Dr. Buddy Rydell, who's  played by Jack Nicholson and, with greasy hair and scrubby  beard, is almost in full Jack Torrance mode, but not quite, although maybe it would have been better if he were. You can figure out in the first ten minutes how the rest of the film is going to go -- the counselor is going to keep doing things to Dave, who actually doesn't have an anger management problem to begin with, until, finally, Dave explodes; problem is, there's over an hour and a half to go once you've figured it out, so it's one slow, scene-by-scene crawl towards the

The picture recycles all of the stuff we've seen in Sandler's previous comedies -- people who gawk at him, people who act mean to him for some reason, people who humiliate him for some reason, gross-looking people, people who pull pranks on Sandler, girls who are sluts, people who bully Sandler, misunderstand him, pick on him, try to antagonize him, laugh at him, have bigger penises than him or otherwise make him feel inadequate (well, as the indispensable Rik Mayall said in The Young Ones, "It's not the size of it but what you do with it that counts!"), and on and on. After a while, you wish Dave would do or say something clever in response to all that's done to him -- one moment, Dr. Rydell is hopping into bed with Dave, tries to spoon with him and then breaks-wind, the next he's goading Dave, for "therapeutic" reasons, to try and hit on a girl at a bar, using an outrageous pick-up line -- but, more than ever, Sandler seems to be working in two modes: either violently out-of-control, or dotingly moseying his way through scenes like one of Carnation's contented cows. P.T. Anderson was able to shape (and give some context to) Sandler's persona so that it approached something resembling art in Punch-Drunk Love, but, working here with director Peter Segal (who previously did Nutty Professor II and the Chris Farley-David Spade comedy Tommy Boy), the comedian seems to be stuck in a rut. Dave never seems to realize that he's the object of endless games-playing perpetrated by a complete and total fraud, so he's duped over and over again. The movie falls into the category of those who keep driving down the road despite the fact that they're running on three tires and a flat: once you fix the flat tire, though, there's no longer any reason for the movie to exist

Anger Management has a number of other problems, too, from the fact that the plot doesn't make any sense, to shots that don't match and some extremely inelegant lighting and cinematography (credited to Donald McAlpine, whose work is usually much, much better than this), and some really weird cameos, including Heather Graham as a girl who strips down to Red Sox underwear (that's Red Sox as in the ball team); John C. Reilly as a Buddhist monk (this is probably your only chance to see someone yanking on a Buddhist monk's loincloth after they have been decked); Harry Dean Stanton as a blind man who gets beaned by a tennis ball -- deliberately; Rudolph Giuliani, who tells Dave, during a Yankees game, to give his girlfriend a "five-second Frenchie"; and Woody Harrelson as a German-born transvestite prostitute (for the record, he looks like a cross between Rutger Hauer and the socialite Jocelyne Wildenstein). John Turturro also makes a frenetically unfunny appearance in a supporting role, showing how, in the space of ten years, he's turned from a really excellent actor into a really bad one who doesn't seem to care anymore how he looks. (Sandler's scenes with Marisa Tomei, who plays Dave's girlfriend, allow a genuinely sweet quality to emerge in the movie from time to time.)

Nicholson maybe thought he'd try and catch a vibe off of one of the hot young performers, here, but it doesn't work: he can't seem to figure out how to make the character work (and neither can the filmmakers -- they try to make it appear that Dr. Rydell has set all this stuff up for Dave's benefit, but it's nonsensical), and he has some wretchedly unfunny lines to deliver, such as, "What is your position on breast implants?" He seems miserable and, worse, monotonous: Nicholson plugs some mannerisms into the role, and then coasts. I got the same feeling I had watching the scene where Marlon Brando rides, at full speed, down a hillside in a bathtub towards some livestock in Bedtime Story (1964): we don't need to see Marlon Brando doing a scene like this, and we don't need to see Jack Nicholson doing a movie like the one that Anger Management has turned out to be. Nicholson's too good an actor, still, to have to stoop to appearing in a low comedy where, among other things, he has to get laughs by doing a couple of scenes where he sings "I Am Pretty" from West Side Story. Maybe Nicholson should have had a look at what happened when Robert De Niro sang the same song last year in Analyze That.

Directed by:
Peter Segal

Starring:
Adam Sandler
Jack Nicholson
Marisa Tomei
Allen Covert
Kevin Nealon
Lynne Thigpen
Luis Guzman
John Turturro

Written by:
David Dorfman

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children under 13.

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